What’s in a name?

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Giuseppe di Liberato

Under Napoleon, and continuing even to today although not enforced, it was forbidden to name a male child after it’s father unless the father was dead.  Because of the continued reuse of forenames within a family many Italians, even today are known by their first name followed by their father’s first name.

This meant that in any generation it would be very rare for there to be two people with the same combination of first and father’s names.  i.e. Domenico di Antonio.

These names were the ‘administrative’ names and not always the ones used every day.  They are the official names you will see on passports, identity cards, birth certificates, military and notary papers.

By the time the person was ready for marriage you may see his ‘daily’ name used for the marriage document and almost certainly on the death record.

Since many children were named following the traditional naming practise there might be several children within the same family who bore the same first name, if the previous ones had died.

Female children were often given the feminine version of the male name if the male children did not survive.

Maria, is a name often given to both male and female children.  Sometimes every female child will bear the name Maria sometimes in combination with a another name sometimes alone.  Look carefully at the birth record if the names are separated by a comma, then the names may be used individually but if there is no comma then the name becomes a double-barrelled name.  Anna Maria, Maria Rita, Anna Lisa, etc.  If there is any kind of verbal abbreviation it will be Maria-ri, or Anna-li, never just Maria or just Anna.  In males the double names are often Gian Carlo,  Giovan(i)battista,or  Pietro Paolo, etc.

Domenico/a and Antonio/a are used frequently in the South of Italy.  These two Saints were much revered and their names were used in many combinations.  In some families you will see each child bearing the name Antonio/a in some combination or other.

A local Saint’s name will be very common in some towns. It may not be the name of the parish. For example, in Rionero Sannitico the parish is San Bartolomeo but the Patron Saint of the town is San Mariano.

Baptism records can be very revealing.  A ‘forbidden’ name such as the father’s name may be added at the time of baptism, thereby  flaunting the law.  This child may then be known on a daily basis by the diminutive of his father’s name.  E.g.  The father is Domenico, the child may be Mimmo.  Antonio for the father and Tonino for the child.  Francesco for the father and Chicco (key-co) for the child.  Of course they still had to use their official name for administrative purposes and on some unofficial records  you may see ‘detto’ followed by the daily name if the father is now deceased.  Often you will see that one of the baptismal names is that of the Godparent or the Godparents father, given to honour them but may rarely be used.  This is very often the case when one of the local nobility is asked to be the Godparent.  In early records where the baptismal indexes are by first name this can be very frustrating as we are often searching for an administrative name that was not the first baptismal name.

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